Covid Gun Rush Jams NICS
Dr. John Woods 05.18.20
Working the in the gun business for over 40 years, we have seen the ATF background check system bog down or outright fail any number of times. The ATF-NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) has been anything but “instant” for a long time. This background examination is required for every firearm purchase from a FFL (Federal Firearm License) holder, and those licensees are required to submit the check and retain all sales records.
When FBI criminal background checks began to be required for a legal purchase of a firearm (originally just handguns), the buyer filled out a form 4473, then the dealer called into the ATF NICS phone line to convey the buyer’s information. Normally within a minute or so the background check was approved, denied, or delayed. (“Denied” meant the purchase could not happen, though no reason was ever given. Delayed meant if the dealer did not hear back, the purchase could be processed in three days.)
It was a cumbersome system.
Later it was processed online via computer at the retail store or gun show location. Computers being what they are often resulted in hold ups, locked up system, or unable to access. It was the nature of the game. The dealer could still physically call in to run the background check.
With the COVID-19 outbreak, gun sales have gone wacky. In March of this year, the ATF system had 3.7 million (MILLION) background check requests. That was a record month since the NICS system was begun in 1998. In April there was another 2.9 million requests, the most for any April since the system began. Delays in background checks were inevitable as the system was simply overwhelmed.
The number of NICS requests does not accurately indicate the exact number of guns sold, as the purchaser’s form can include multiple gun sales including handguns, rifles, and shotguns. The overall NICS numbers though do indicate the traffic in sales all over the country. Sales are exceedingly high. Why is that?
In one simple word: panic. During any national crisis, people simply become concerned for their personal safety. I doubt we have seen anywhere near the level of panic that may be coming if we see shortages in basic supplies and essential foods. With meat processing plants shutting down, a shortage of meat on the shelves may linger for some time. Expect other foods and goods to come up short as well.
The ATF expects and warns of additional delays in background checks. They may be considering limits on submissions. If you want to buy a gun now, the best strategy is to purchase it as soon as possible and test the NICS system. If there is a delay, at least your request will be in the system.